Monday, April 7, 2014

X-MEN: HELLFIRE CLUB #1 - February 2000


Witch Hunt
Credits:  Ben Raab (writer), Charlie Adlard (artist), Kevin Somers (colors), Jon Babcock (letters)

Summary:  Irene Merryweather investigates Sebastian Shaw’s family, focusing on Reverend Hiram Shaw and the Salem Witch Trials.  Irene learns from a minister the story of Hiram, his son Obadiah, Obadiah’s girlfriend Abby, and her secret life as a witch.  When Hiram’s wife is killed by Dormammu, Abby is blamed.  As she escapes Salem, she uses her powers to kill several townspeople.  Today, the minister is killed after telling Irene the story.

Continuity Notes:  Irene Merryweather is oddly off-model, although I guess not as off-model as Trish Tilby can occasionally be.

Review:  This is an unusual relic from the final days of the Bob Harras era.  Marvel was apparently willing to do a historical drama with few superheroic elements as a miniseries, but didn’t have enough faith in the concept to leave X-Men out of the title.  Had this mini been released a year or so later, with a writer not associated with late ‘90s Marvel, it probably would’ve been acknowledged as another "daring" experiment from the Quesada/Jemas days.  And, had it been released a few years earlier, before the market had been oversaturated by X-product, it might’ve been remembered as a unique project by a promising creative team.  Instead, it’s dumped out just as this era of Marvel comes to a close, not gaining much attention from X-fans or non-X-Fans.

Over the years, a few readers have picked up on the miniseries, however.  I’ve heard it described as the giant leap ahead for Ben Raab, and based on the first issue, I can’t disagree.  He starts with the most clichéd set-up imaginable, the evil preacher picking on innocent girls in 1692 Massachusetts, then turns all of the clichés into clever plot twists.  Yes, Rev. Hiram Shaw is arrogant and power hungry, but he’s also legitimately hunting witches.  He’s described by Dormammu as the "sorcerer supreme" in quotes, so I doubt Raab is playing with continuity enough to claim that Shaw really is this era’s Sorcerer Supreme, but he’s clearly involved with the mystical realm in some way.  As is Abby, the alleged witch who turns out to be a literal witch.  When Shaw tells his son Obadiah not to be seen with her, it’s not only because he’s accusing Abby of being a witch in order to provoke the locals.  Using Shaw, a character we naturally assume to be a villain based on his occupation and last name and casting him as a flawed hero is kind of brilliant, and it automatically makes me more willing to give the series a shot.  The art is also nicely cast, as Adlard’s moody art fits the era perfectly, while his stylized faces are still human enough to sell the emotions.


Winchester Meatcleaver said...

Such an underrated series!

Matt said...

I really liked this mini-series at the time. Especially the subsequent issues with the Civil War Captain America (who I had just discovered via a Roger Stern/Ron Frenz story in the short lived anthology series) and the World War I Union Jack.

Matt said...

That should say "the short lived Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty anthology series". I messed up my own formatting. I think I'm going to start typing series titles in ALL CAPS instead, as I do on my own blog.

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